Election campaign our "national pregnancy": So let's talk about childcare

It didn't take long for the political pundits to compare the time between now and the September 14 federal election to that of a pregnancy.

It came up immediately on Twitter with one male I follow declaring (I can only hope sarcastically) that surely, surely a pregnancy would be easier to sit through than what we've got coming.

Journalist Tony Wright this morning coined this a period of "national pregnancy", noting that it'll culminate in a period of "hard labour".

Leaving aside the fact a pregnancy is more like 40 weeks, and this political period of "morning sickness ... tiredness and swelling annoyance" is closer to 32, let's stick with the pregnancy analogy for a moment and consider just what kind of opportunities we can hope the Prime Minister's declaration of "certainty" can actually give birth to.

The extended (albeit unofficial) campaign is great news for policies affecting women and for making the most of the "women's vote" we've long been talking about as integral to the 2013 election outcome. This period is an opportunity to get issues heard and see policies properly scrutinised.

From conversations with women at events, on social media and through our own research, we know childcare is especially hurting working women. A desire to stay connected to the workforce and continue a career means some women practically pay to get to the office. Then there's the often-forgotten unpaid labour hours grandparents and other relatives put in minding grandkids so parents can go off to work to repay their mortgages.

The Coalition has promised a Productivity Commission into accessible and affordable childcare, with draft terms of reference looking to address the "24-7 economy". This is welcome: childcare opening hours rarely align perfectly with our working lives. However, we need more than a policy promising a review: we need policies. Opposition leader Tony Abbott said while he this commission would look to address new funding models, his party will still seek to "operate within the current funding envelope". What will that enable?

Meanwhile the Labor party is still not keen on extending the childcare subsidy to nannies – something prominent female leaders have called for. Not even up for debate?

Recently, Chief Executive Women's Jenny Fagg listed five key areas of childcare that need to be addressed. She was referring to what should be covered in a Productivity Commission, but the issues raised are worth considering as we proceed through the first, second and third trimester of this "national pregnancy".

  1. The complexity of childcare benefits
  2. The true cost of childcare (including regional differences)
  3. The ad hoc childcare demands of school-aged children (covering holidays and sick days)
  4. The need for flexible childcare that suits shift workers and those working long and irregular hours
  5. And limitations of the FBT Exemption (which provides a benefit to those accessing childcare facilities on site)
  6. Add to this The Australian Childcare Alliance's call for the cap on the Child Care Rebate to be raised to $8100 (including an additional subsidy for parents requiring out-of-hours care), as well as ideas on how we can address the terrible pay childcare workers currently receive, and I think we've got a good starting point.

It's an area we at Women's Agenda hope to see vigorously debated over the next 32 weeks.

Is childcare a key election issue for you? What so you hope to see debated?

Let us know what matters to you in the 2013 federal election by filling in our poll here.

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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